A Not-So-Dark and Twisted Valentine’s Day

1. Big crowd at Housing Works. There are never enough chairs! 2. Dale Peck, co-founder of Mischief + Mayhem, reads. 3. Ben Greenman (Celebrity Chekhov) takes a break from the reading to catch up on his favorite picture book about the first lady.

As my boyfriend lives a hundred and seventy-seven miles away and Valentine’s Day dinner over Skype seemed a pretty grim idea, I headed down to Housing Works Bookstore for Mischief + Mayhem’s take on the Day of Love, a reading that promised to be “evil, sarcastic, and mean.” The MC for the evening was Katie Halper — hysterically funny and “recently single” — who was happy to share her red flags for soon-to-fail relationships: writer-types, drinking straight out of the bottle, talking about how much of an asshole you are, aspiring to be a pot head. The good thing, she notes, about dating underachievers is that you don’t have to wish ill on them… they’re already living it. Jeez, someone hire this girl as a comedy writer.

Dale Peck, co-founder of Mischief + Mayhem, read first, then had to run because he had a class to teach at The New School. He did, however, introduce us all to his boyfriend and gave him a box of chocolate in front of everyone. WTF, where’s the meanness and sarcasm in that? I barricaded myself in front of the door as he was trying to leave and asked why he started M&M: “We wanted to change the way people bought books. We’re bourgeois revolutionaries, we’re not blowing anything up. It’s boring and exciting.”

1. Lisa Dierbeck, author of The Autobiography of Jenny X (from Mischief + Mayhem/OR Books) reads an excerpt about Christopher, who invites the cops up to his girlfriend’s apartment so she can flash them. I would say that’s also a red flag. 2. Hannah Tinti (co-founder and editor of One Story, author of The Good Thief) plays her ukulele like a pro.

Lisa Dierbeck was up next, and her excerpt from Autobiography of Jenny X was about the ex-boyfriend from hell. It’s not any boyfriend specifically, she said, but a composite. “Composites are a good way to avoid lawsuits and divorce. I stand by that.”

Ben Greenman read a love story about trees. Fave quotes: “Are we intwigged or entwined?” and “The other tree is telling me I’m yelling.” The last time he read the same story (love means revisiting) there was a “literary brawl”! What? He got heckled by The Underground Literary Alliance. Obviously I’m all for literary brawls, but I’d say the trees would have something to say about this.

1. Max Blagg, journalist and poet, loves Valentine’s Day. Sort of. 2. MC Katie with an adoring fan. Actually, while I was talking to Katie about how funny she was, writer Cara Hoffman (whose novel So Much Pretty is out from Simon & Schuster next month) accosted Katie to say she was absurdly funny and listening to her was incredibly therapeutic. Why therapeutic? “I just finished writing a really dark book.” Katie thought she looked like Tina Fey.

Next to read was Hannah Tinti. She read an excerpt from her new novel about a guy who gets shot over and over again. “So, it’s about getting shot and longing.” Fave line: “His heart was thumping like a bunch of swallowed birds.” Tinti said she was a shy person, but she got a ukulele about a month ago, and what better way to expose your heart to a bunch of random people than SING and PLAY THE UKULELE for them? With an awfully sweet rendition of Build Me Up Buttercup (the most upbeat song about stalking, ever) that led to the entire audience chiming in at key moments, I have to say it was certainly a very successful first performance.

Max Blagg read a piece about how drinking in the UK seemed much more dangerous than drinking in the states. He relayed some tales of love which included the silver-daddy phenomenon and women that want their nipples twisted with clothespins in a hotel’s disabled persons’ bathroom — but hell, that’s not Valentines Day in NY, that’s Monday.

1. I caught reader Marian Fontana (A Widow’s Walk) outside with friends Scott, Jesse and Tara. “We’re going for dinner and cocktails. I hope they have tables for four and not just two.” 2. And look! I wasn’t lying about 30 Rock! Watch out for the episode that takes place in a bookstore. You’re in the know!

Last but not least, Marian Fontana. She read from her novel A Widow’s Walk, about being a 9–11 widow. It was incredibly funny, sharp, and I want a copy. The excerpt she read was about trying to date online. Her friends keep telling her that when she stops looking for a soul mate, she’ll find one. “It’s like telling a starving person it’s when they stop looking that they’ll find a hamburger.”

It was a good reading, though not as dark and stormy as promised (actually, pretty sweet and cute). I was looking forward to Katie telling me more jokes, more Tinti on the ukulele, and listening to Blagg’s accent, but everyone was very quickly rushed out of Housing Works because they were filming. Filming what, you ask? 30 ROCK! Happy Valentine’s Day to me!

–Emily Firetog is working towards an MFA at Columbia.

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